Why Some Consultants Don’t Make Partner

Only a small percentage of consultants who join top consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain make it to Partner. Based on best estimates, we suspect it’s less than 5% of consultants who make it.

However, the majority of consultants aren’t interested in pursuing Partnership and only stay in consulting for 2-3 years to gain experience and move on to other opportunities.

In this article, we take a brief look at some of the reasons why consultants may not pursue reaching Partner and then we explain the three most important reasons for why someone at the level just below Partner might not be elected into the Partner role, despite wanting to make it.

Many consultants don’t try to make Partner

A consultant might choose to leave their firm before reaching Partner for two broad reasons: the cons of consulting become too great or they’re offered more exciting opportunities.

We talk more about the cons of consulting in this article. Generally speaking, the challenges around work-life balance and the high-pressure environment result in many consultants choosing to leave after a few years, once they have achieved what they wanted from the job.

Former top tier consultants are highly-sought after among other industries, including start-ups and Government. This often results in consultants securing new, exciting opportunities beyond consulting, which may appeal more to their specific interests or long-term career plans. Consulting is a strong spring-board to many other careers, so sometimes staying in consulting appears to be the least favorable option compared to the other opportunities available.

Many consultants aren’t suited to being a Partner

Generally speaking, you make Partner when you have enough senior colleagues banging the table for you to be elected. Those who don’t have this level of backing don’t make it and this is often a result of one or more of the following three issues:

1. Lack of ‘platform’

A potential partner’s ‘platform’ is their experience, successes, and their story—it’s what they’ve built that puts them in good stead for election. It usually takes the form of:

a) Client success e.g. having a couple of clients that ask you to come back; these need to be clients who can provide a steady flow of work and where the individual has strong relationships with executives who ask to have him/her on projects.

b) Growing the knowledge and capabilities of the firm, e.g. building a clear base of expertise that can be deployed on multiple projects

c) Contributing to the firm internally—whether through recruiting, training, setting up new events, etc.

Many partners who don’t make it lack a clear ’story’ in the above. They may have run several successful projects, but over a miscellaneous range of industries or functions, or with nothing that demands inordinate attention. It doesn’t mean they’re bad at their job, but it does mean they won’t stand out.

There is also an element of luck. Sometimes your sponsor at a client changes job, the client stops using your firm, or your expertise is less in demand—in which case you lose your platform.

2. Lack of network

Having a strong, supportive network within the firm is important. To make Partner in consulting you don’t simply need to be good at your job; you need lots of people saying very loudly that you’re good at your job. The stronger and more senior your supporters, the more likely you are to make it.

Those who don’t get elected often lack such support. They might run good projects, keep their teams happy, and do their job well. It’s not that anyone thinks they’re bad, it’s just that they don’t have so many people fighting in their corner when review time comes around.

This is where the ‘politics’ of making Partner comes into play. By making sure you’re making your own successes clear to the right people, you are putting yourself in a stronger position to be elected.

3. Lack of performance

Performance comes down to client impact, client management, and team management. Someone who does well on all three will:

a) Run projects where the outcome is hugely beneficial to the client and perceived as such

b) Be well regarded and liked by clients and will consistently receive positive feedback

c) Keep their teams happy and receive positive feedback as a result

Consider the opposite if you want to get an idea of the kind of person who won’t make it. Clients could take or leave them, several of the projects they’ve managed have gone awry, and their teams have been working like dogs and giving terrible upward feedback as a result. Not a good place to be.

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